Nurse Francesca Cruz has taken a job on a cruise ship bound for the Mediterranean—the perfect retreat from her break-up—except she finds herself trapped with gorgeous but arrogant doctor Gabriel Russo. She knows his type well: that devastating smile, those come-to-bed eyes and that easy charm. She won’t be tempted twice. But with nowhere to escape—except overboard—and her delicious boss lying in the next cabin it’s easier said than done!
Gabriel turned his head, trying to figure out where the cry had come from amongst the bustling bodies at the port side. The Venezia Passegeri was packed – mainly with crew and harbour staff. Carts packed with passengers luggage and obscene amount of fresh food were being piled aboard the cruise ship in front of him, all blocking his view.
“Help! Over here. Someone help!”
The cry rippled through the crowd as heads turned and focused towards the shout. It only took Gabriel a few seconds to realise the cry was coming from the port’s edge. He dropped his bag and pushed his way through the crowd. A woman was standing near the quayside, her face pale, her breathing coming in rapid, shallow breaths. Her trembling hand was held aloft pointing towards the water.
Gabriel’s eyes followed her finger. There, in the water was a child – a teenager – struggling in the waves that already seemed to have a grip of him. He must have only just fell in, but this part of the marina was right on the outskirts of Venice, nearest to the sea and the waves were picking him up and down as he coughed and spluttered, pulling him out to sea.
Gabriel didn’t even think. He just dived in. Straight into the murky waters of Venice.
By now a few crew members had realised the commotion and were shouting in rapid Italian. Gabriel swam quickly towards the boy. It only took a few seconds to wish he’d taken the time to remove his shoes and dress uniform jacket. They weighed him down almost instantly. His white uniform would never look the same again.
The boy kept sinking before his eyes. The waves sweeping over his head as he struggled for breath. Gabriel powered forward anxious to reach him before he disappeared from sight again.
He got there a few seconds later but the boy had sunk under the waves. Gabriel took a deep breath and dove below the waves, reaching out into the darkness. It was amazing how the strong Italian sun penetrated so little through the murky waves. Venice was renowned for its dirty canals. The cruise ship terminal was situated on the outskirts near the edge of the Adriatic Sea, where the deep-hulled boats could dock. And although the waters were marginally better here they still looked nothing like the clear blue seas depicted in the travel brochures. His fingers brushed against something and he tried fruitlessly to grasp it. Nothing.
Frustration swept over him. His face broke the surface of the water and he gasped for air trying to fill his lungs. Beneath the waves he shucked one foot against the other. It was a move he did every night in the comfort of his penthouse flat while sitting on the sofa. But struggling to stay afloat it was so much more awkward. Finally he felt a release as the five hundred euro handmade leather shoes floated down into the murky depths. Now he would find him.
He dove beneath the waves again, reaching out trying to circle the area beneath him. This time he felt something bump against his hand and he grabbed hold tightly before kicking his burning legs to the surface. They burst above the waves, the teenager’s flailing legs and arms landing a panicked punch on the side of Gabriel’s head.
He flinched. His brain switching into gear. The woman at the side of the port edge had shouted in English. “Stay still,” he hissed. The sun was temporarily blinding him as the water streamed down his face.
He could see the jetty with figures as they shouted towards him but he couldn’t hear a word. The currents were strong here and he could hardly believe how quickly they’d moved from the port’s edge.
The glistening hull of the luxury cruise ship seemed so far away. He’d been standing before it only a few minutes earlier.
He grasped both hands around the boy’s chest pulling him backwards against his own, trying to swim for both of them.
But the boy couldn’t stop panicking. The waves were fierce, the water still sweeping over the top of them, causing him to writhe in Gabriel’s arms as he struggled for breath. A shadow loomed behind them.
His arms were aching as he fought to keep their heads above the water. How on earth was he going to get them back to the port’s side? Again he could hear the boy coughing and spluttering, choking on the undulating waves that kept crashing over their heads.
He’d never done a sea rescue before. Last time he’d seen one he’d been watching TV. It had all looked so much easier then. Didn’t the Baywatch lifeguards always put people on their backs and pull them towards shore? It didn’t seem to be working for him. Only they had that strange red plastic thing to help them. Where were the lifebelts here? Shouldn’t every port have them?
What on earth was he doing? This was madness. Being a cruise ship doctor was supposed to be easy. It wasn’t supposed to kill you the first day on the job.
The irony of this wasn’t lost on him. He’d known this job was a bad idea right from the start. A cruise ship doctor was hardly the ideal role for a paediatrician.
But family came first.
And this was the first job he could find at short notice. Close enough to Venice to be here when needed, but far enough away not to attract any unwanted media attention.
His father’s health was slowly but surely deteriorating. And the call to the family business – the one he’d never wanted to be part of – was getting louder and louder. Being a fourteen hour flight away was no longer feasible. Then again, finding a position locally in his specialist field hadn’t been feasible either.
Timing was everything. If he’d applied for a paediatric post six months before, with his background and experience, he could almost have guaranteed his own success. But all the desirable posts had been filled and it would be another six months before the slots were available again.
This was a compromise. Only the compromise wasn’t meant to kill him.
A small boat was in the distance. It seemed to be moving very slowly, creeping around the huge hull of the cruise ship as if it were crawling towards them like a tortoise. Every muscle in his body was starting to burn. His arms were like blocks of lead. The figures on the jetty were still shouting towards them and the shadow appeared again.
Gabriel struggled to turn his head as the brick port wall loomed above them. All at once the danger became apparent, the sweeping current taking them straight towards it and with Gabriel’s hands caught tightly around the teenager’s chest there was no opportunity to lift his hands and protect his head.
So much for being here to support his family.
And then everything went black.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!